Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I'll Be Dreaming of You This Christmas

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been dreaming of a warm Christmas. The past few weeks in Florida have been downright cold with lows in the 40s at night, and the temperature struggling to reach the 60s during the day. 

I don’t care much for this kind of weather. Even though I grew up in Pittsburgh and loved the one or two snowy Christmases I remember, I prefer a balmy Christmas. 

When my family first moved here years ago, we wanted to spend the holiday in ways that were unconventional to us. 

So I’ve spent Christmas Day at the Magic Kingdom eating hamburgers instead of ham. 

I’ve skated on fake ice on a temporary rink outside Universal Studios, while the sun blazed down, making puddles around my blades. 

I’ve found myself on a boyfriend’s ski boat in the middle of a lake at Christmas, needing sunscreen and watching families gather under the decorated trees on their docks.

After so many Florida Christmases, about the only kind of cold weather I can tolerate is watching snow fall on TV.

So every year I watch my favorite holiday movie, White Christmas, where I can dream of ski lodges covered with snow while my air conditioner blows a cool breeze over me as I’m tucked up on my couch.

Wrapped around plenty of singing and dancing, the story unfurls some lovely gifts of truth to savor all year long. 

The characters selflessly give of their talents to help a friend, persevere to make their dreams come true, and even welcome the adventure of a train ride from Florida to the mountains of Vermont. 

And even though it’s warm and sunny once they arrive, they keep right on dreaming of a white Christmas.

I watched it again {well, maybe for the hundredth time} last week and my favorite part of the movie is the sister act, where Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen sing and dance their way into the hearts of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. 

Although my sister and I can’t dance or sing to save our lives, we’ve quoted the lines of the song and written them in cards to each other as part of our sister code for years. 

So when I was in St. Augustine for Thanksgiving and saw a picture frame with the words to the “Sisters” song scrolled across it, I had to have it. 

Just like the sisters in the movie, my sister knows me better than anyone else does. 

She’s my truest confidante, my biggest cheerleader and my wisest advisor. She also accurately sizes up my motives and can set me straight and call me out because she knows what I’m thinking. She is the one person whose judgment I trust completely because she wants nothing more than the best for me.

Why wouldn’t I trust the one who knows me best? 

I ask myself the same question about God.

God has known me from the beginning and can see the entire span of my life from the past, the present, and into the future. 

I’m not sure I would have imagined that my future included writing a blog and having you join me every week, where you are so kind and gracious with your encouraging comments.

Three years ago when I felt God stirring some interest in me to write a blog, I couldn’t understand it. I’m reserved and reflective, and writing a blog feels a lot like going to the grocery store in my pajamas and slippers.

I had no idea how to create a blog. When I mentioned it to a few friends, they confidently told me they’d have me and up and running in no time, and all of a sudden I found myself gasping for air as I was pushed into the blogging pool.

I posted a photo a friend took of my living room, wrote a few paragraphs and hit publish. I calmed down after I realized no one was actually reading my blog except for my mother and my sister. 

But God sees me as I was meant to be, and he calls me what I am not yet to show me what I could be.

He is helping me discover the gifts he gave me and how to pursue the dreams he’s planted in my heart. 

He’s giving me opportunities to live with courage and perseverance, and showing me how to enjoy the adventure of whatever this life may bring. 

And, friend, this is what I’m praying for you too. 

Whether you’re dreaming of days that are warm with sunshine or white with snowflakes, I’ll be dreaming of you on Christmas. 

If you’re experiencing circumstances that threaten to swallow your hope, choke off your faith and shatter pieces of your heart, my prayer for you is that God will open the eyes of your heart. 

To see your life as he sees it and know that your heart matters so very much to him and that he cares deeply about your circumstances.

I pray you’ll feel wrapped in God’s extravagant love, and that your heart will be filled with hope and love and peace and joy.

I’m going to be wishing for a warm day here in Florida on Christmas but I’ve just heard that some members of my extended family are spending Christmas in Paris this year. 

I wonder how cold it gets in Paris in December? It rather sounds like an enchanting idea for Christmas that I might be able to warm up to. 

I think I'll ask my sister if she wants to go with me.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and at Kelly Balare's place with Cheerleaders of Faith. Will you join me and click the image to read more holiday cheer?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Breaking with Tradition

I was in St. Augustine a few weeks ago, celebrating yet another Thanksgiving in the place that has become my family’s tradition. 

More than 25 years ago when we were new arrivals to Florida, my mother proposed that we get away instead of staying home wishing we were gathering with family back in Pittsburgh. 

St. Augustine seemed the perfect holiday excursion to enjoy history, the beach and shopping, and was just a two-hour drive from Orlando.  

My only memory of St. Augustine was a dispute on a family vacation during my childhood when my mother was the only one of us to defy my germaphobe father and drink the murky water offered us from the Fountain of Youth.

{To this day, my mother credits this drink to her youthful-looking skin. The rest of us are on our own.}

But now after years of visiting the ancient fort, museums, historic homes, and so many of the town’s tourist sites, the itinerary for the weekend rarely changes. It could quite possibly be considered mind-numbingly repetitive. 

We eat at the same restaurants, browse the same stores, walk the same streets and stay at the same inn. We don’t even make a reservation, knowing that the innkeeper will always hold rooms for us. I even order the same salad at the Columbia Restaurant where we eat every Black Friday.

But just when I think I’ve seen it all, I discover a subtle change to enjoy or a slight nuance to appreciate.

I turn down a skinny brick street I’ve never happened upon, lined with charming homes from long ago. 

I stumble onto a newly opened shop filled with all sorts of trinkets that are just my vintage style. 

I sit in front of a gorgeous carved fireplace in a new-to-me room at the Victorian house-turned-restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner.

When something is so familiar, it’s hard to keep it from becoming a little ordinary. Fighting for a fresh angle can take some effort.

I've been thinking about this as I review my history with God. 

Because I’ve heard about him from my youngest days, the words and stories about God feel familiar to me, like a comfortable pillow or a second skin. But just when I think that what I already know might be enough, I find there's more. 

Something new. 

This verse has echoed in my heart all year long. “Can’t you see it?” Isaiah 43:19 asks me. “Forget the former things, I’m doing a new thing.” 

The new thing he is doing in me is inviting me to abandon the old habits and break long-standing traditions to forge fresh patterns. 

As I consider my history with him in my disappointments, exhilarations and life-acceptances {those things in my life that that I can’t control}, I see how he always somehow brings good from the dregs and the chaff and the scraps. 

It's this history -- my story -- that only makes me more confident to trust him. 

I’m beginning to see that circumstances that could be ripe for disappointment are just the opportunities to practice wild hope. 

The requests I bring to God in prayer that might not get answered are just the invitation I need to fight harder for them.

My usual way of preparing for the worst is to imagine every mind-numbing detail I can possibly think of and envision how I might respond so it won’t be as shocking or disruptive to me if it actually happens. 

But I feel God moving me away from that mindset so he can move me closer to him. 

To a place that's becoming familiar to me, right by his side. And it's there I'll be hovering so that when life's let-downs occur, he'll be there to cushion me and lift me back up.

Instead of assuming the same old tradition of buttoned up hopes to brace for the worst, I’m finding it harder to stay in that same old place. Even though I step back into my traditional way of thinking sometimes, the new mindset grows more familiar as I return to it time and again. 

Are there old places God is pulling you away from to invite you to experience him anew? 

Breaking free from the pessimism feels strange and risky at first but is becoming more appealing and very refreshing to me. And I think it might for you too.

Although I keep waiting for St. Augustine to grow stale, it never does. The more I think about it, our itinerary has actually been modified somewhat through the years. 

I now board the Holly Jolly Trolley, waiting hours to sing along with my fellow trolley riders as I wear 3-D glasses to view the light displays. {As you might imagine, this isn’t really my cup of tea, but I do it for my niece.}

We just discovered a new eatery of a quaint local diner for our last meal on our way out of town.

And surprisingly, before we said our goodbyes to our innkeeper and packed our bags in the car, we decided to book our rooms at the inn for next year.

I think this astonishing break with tradition could be the start of something revolutionary. I might even do something as unconventional as ordering a sandwich instead of a salad at the Columbia Restaurant on Black Friday. 

I’m feeling a little rogue and explorer-like and just a bit Ponce de Leon-esque for even considering it. 

And I'm wondering if I still have time before more wrinkles set in to stop by the Fountain of Youth and get that age-defying drink of water? I think I just might put it on the agenda for next year. 

I just won’t mention it to my dad.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Will you join me there?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Cashmere Pencil Tree {A Real Story}

I decided this was the year. Every year as I put up my tree {and take it down}, I tell myself that this is the last year I'm going to buy a real Christmas tree. 

I dread getting it home from the tree lot, wrestling it into the tree stand and then hauling it to the curb at the end of the holiday season. It's just too much work for this single girl. But the next year I somehow find myself doing it all over again. 

Growing up, my family always had a real tree. It seemed like it couldn't be Christmas without a real tree. 

But this year the thought of not putting up a tree at all sounded very appealing to me. Then I happened to see an artificial tree that had my name written all over it. 

Well, actually it was the name written all over the tree that got my attention.

The tag hanging from the tip-top of its seven-feet tall very skinny self said it was a cashmere pencil tree. 

Cashmere? As in the softest fashion fabric ever? Was a pencil tree kind of like a pencil skirt? 

It sounded like a fabulously fashionable Christmas tree and I knew this was the tree for me. Suddenly I couldn't wait to decorate this very elegant and stylish tree.

The box even had a spiffy handle as I carried it to my car, like some sort of vogue valise. As I drove the tree home safely boxed in my trunk {no top of the tree poking out at traffic behind me}, I knew I needed the help of an expert to correctly assemble it. Someone with an air of confidence. Who always forges forward even if she doesn't know what she's doing.

I knew exactly who to call. 

My seven-year-old niece. She was still in her pajamas but said she’d be right over. 

A self-proclaimed authority on just about everything, Devon claims assembling Christmas trees is one of her specialties. 

“Auntie, we don’t need the instructions,” she said as I spread them out before us. When I was skeptical, she added, “Well, I haven’t really done one myself before but I’ve watched these put together at school and I know what to do.”

I suggested we should probably keep the little cards with numbers hanging on the three sections of the tree so I’d know which pieces connected next year. 

Devon looked at me with a mixture of pity and doubt and then spoke from great experience. 

“Auntie, is this your first fake tree?”

Even though this is the first year of my life without a real Christmas tree, I've discovered that this year my life holds more of what's real than ever before.

I’m wondering if you’re looking for more of what’s real this holiday season too?

Real hope? Real truth? Real peace? Real confidence for the future?

There’s only one place to find these genuine but sometimes elusive essentials for our souls. It’s in the person of God. 

Who often doesn’t seem to be very real to us humans at all. 

I don’t know about you, but it takes all the faith I can possibly muster to put my trust in the one I can’t see, can’t feel and can’t hear speak to me in an audible voice.

I wonder how I can bring all that happens in real-time in my life to a God who is so mystifying, so unfathomable, so inexplicable. But I see him doing the impossible. And he sees me.

He sees me struggling to have real confidence that God does care about what happens in my life.

He sees me holding onto real hope to believe that God does promise good things for me, while I’m still here in the land of the living, not just in eternity yet to come.

He sees me reaching for real peace to rest and know that God is overseeing the entire span of my life as I trust my heart to the one who knows me best.

And he sees me coming to him again and again, as I hold out my heart with unsteady hands, and in exchange he holds nothing back to show me that he is dependable, trustworthy, loving and gracious, despite my failures and shortcomings.

I find it hard to comprehend that this God who is so holy and magnificent and awe-inspiring, who presides over the heavens and over all of this earth is the same God who is so personal and intimate and familiar. Who we celebrate this time of year in coming to earth as a baby to redeem us. Who is in pursuit of me to make himself real to me.

But I know it's true because I've encountered this real and hallowed God.

Maybe it’s hard to peer beyond your cloudy circumstances. 

Maybe it’s not easy to look forward to a new year because you’re still mired in the doubts and despair of what’s happened in the past year. 

Maybe you aren’t sure that God does have good things for you when all you can see are the real difficulties surrounding you. 

But the one who sees your heart wants to give you true peace, genuine joy and honest-to-goodness hope. 

May he open your eyes to see more of this real and powerful and unfathomable mystery, and may you glimpse the true intent of his heart toward you.

As Devon and I decorated my tree with the skating ornaments I’ve collected through the years, I realized that finally here was a tree I wouldn’t have to water or clean up pine needles from underneath its drooping branches. 

I think this artificial tree might be the real deal.

Now if only I had a real cashmere sweater to wear with my pencil skirt as I sit beside my cashmere pencil tree. {I think that sounds a little like a riddle.}

I know the real sweaters are expensive but maybe I can shop for faux-cashmere. I bet it's probably just as good as a real one.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and Sarah Ann's Faith Along the Way. Click the images for more encouraging posts!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What To Do With Uncertainty

I went to a vintage clothing party a few weeks ago at the home of my sister’s friend Shawna. 

As a first-time-fashion-partier, I was quite amazed to see that her house had been transformed into a makeshift chic boutique. 

Fashionistas were foraging through clothing racks set up in the living room, their arms full of sweaters with layers of lace swinging from hems, colorful blouses and sassy skirts. 

The house was abuzz as ladies paraded in and out of the living room for opinions on their frocks. Shawna had transformed her office into a fitting room, outfitted with a mirror leaned charmingly on a couch.

I couldn’t wait to meet Shawna {who knew me through my blog} because she professionally paints furniture and I was excited to see her house. 

I fell in love with her decorating style and beautifully painted dressers and tables. I even got to poke around her garage which was a treasure-trove of furniture pieces waiting for paint or repair. 

And I started dreaming about painting. 

I’m a sloppy, slap-dash kind of painter. I never put down a drop-cloth. I paint in the middle of anywhere. And I never ever prime a surface. I’ve paid for this slap-dashery by chipping paint drips off of my floors with my fingernails and hiding all the spots I miss when I paint furniture. 

I recently painted a desk I’d had for years. I figured I could finish it pretty quickly, but three hours later I was still layering on coats of glossy white. 

Painting always brings out my hesitation. I’ve wanted to paint my French couch for years but I get nervous it will look worse afterward than it does now. I even started to paint it once, then messily wiped it all off because I wasn’t sure. 

Can I live with the uncertainty? 

This is the question God has been asking me lately. And it’s not about painting furniture. It’s about how I will approach tomorrow and all the days yet to come. 

Even though I’m not sure about my answer, I know it should be yes. 

I know when I’m feeling settled about things, I tend to think I’m pretty confident and I don’t feel a need for more opinions and input. But when I’m not so sure, I spend more time drawing myself up close to God. 

Uncertainty has become the invitation to God’s holy home. 

It’s the passageway to experiencing all of who he is, that I can only understand in the smallest of slivers.

These God-led experiences have brushed my life with a brilliant polish, but aged it with a patina that has only come through stiff perseverance and a faith that strives for steady when I feel distressed and disturbed. 

All that’s commonplace and safe and ordinary in my life has been chipped away, one fragile layer at a time, and a new hue is emerging. 

Uncertainty seems like a weak and defective companion, but its powerful presence serves a purpose. 

What if I let uncertainty lead me to the place where I know without a doubt that God is the one who loves me always? 

What if I welcomed it to help me understand that when I am stirred up and overwhelmed by worry, God comforts me with his peace? 

What if I let it usher me right to the realization that no matter how gray my circumstances may seem, God is still good -- very good -- to me?

So I follow uncertainty to the only steadfast one who never changes. 

I think this foe-turned-friend could help me paint a fresh coat of perspective on the days ahead of me. 

And those days just might hold some painting projects, thanks to a little inspiration from Shawna. I think I'm ready to tackle my French couch now, along with a half-dozen chair legs too.

At the vintage clothing party, I tried on a long creamy sweater that seemed perfect for cool weather but fit more like a draping scarf than outerwear. 

I wasn’t sure about it so I modeled it for the opinions of the party-goers. My fellow fashionistas told me it looked great but that I should probably plan to wear it for fashion, not for warmth. 

So I bought it. 

I figure if I’m cold I could always put on another coat.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image to join me there!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Camera-Shy with a New Perspective

After two years of owning my camera, I’m still trying to figure it out. I would think that by now I'd be better acquainted with it.

So I asked my friend Tony who is a professional photographer, to give me some pointers. I think this is the third time a friend has offered me some photography instruction and I'm about to lose hope of ever grasping the concepts. 

No matter how many times I hear about shutter speed and light sensitivity, I can’t seem to adjust the camera's settings to take more artful photos. There are numbers to remember and fractions involved, and although I try to pay attention to what Tony is telling me, I’m more of a words-girl than a numbers-girl.  

Photography seems like an art in reverse logic. Maximum is minimum, slow is fast, a narrow opening lets in more light. {Or something like that.}

My eyes glaze over and Tony tries to explain it another way. 

He says to think of a little man inside my camera who quickly glances at the scene I want to capture and says hey, it’s too dark in here, I need more light. He says I should make adjustments according to what the little man inside my camera is saying to me. 

{I'm distracted thinking of this little man inside my camera. I want to meet him. And then I wonder if he'd be willing to help me with some of the other things that baffle me.} 

I think I need to focus and adjust my perspective. And not just with my camera. With my heart too.

When discouragement and uncertainty make their feisty attempts to push and prod their way into my day, I am trying to see things through a different lens.

I hear these fearful voices say hey, isn’t it too late for what you’ve been dreaming of? Isn’t it time you gave up hoping? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to go back to normal and stop praying for God to work his purposes in your life? 

It's hard not to listen to this perspective because I focus on it more than the whisper that says God's ways are sometimes very different from how I would go about things. 

So I could give up or press on.

I could live hopeless or hopeful. 

I could live like I think God is holding out on me or I could live like I know God has so much more for me than I could ever imagine.

If I let doubt get a foothold, then I will think that it’s too late, time is up, and hope has run out.

If I think that I’ve prayed long enough, then there’s no point in asking God what he desires for me. 

If I decide there have been too many detours and side roads to keep pressing on, then I'll believe that I’ll never arrive at my next promised place.

Or instead, even though it doesn't make sense, I can focus on what I cannot see.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. I Pet. 1:8

God operates outside of time and space and my life's timeline is in his hands. 

And I trust him.

I’ve already been to more places and gone so much farther than I would have ever dreamed possible. 

And I've found him faithful.

Only God could design this dream as it surged into my life and cascaded to the very depths of my heart. 

And only he can make it happen.

I’ve already seen his powerful presence in the midst of my most perplexing situations and in the heart of my most delicate experiences. 

I know his presence is all I need to fix my focus and adjust my perspective. 

Now if I could only do the same with my camera. 

I'm wishing that Tony would just tell that little man inside my camera {since he already seems to be well acquainted with him} to go ahead and make all the decisions for me so my photos can be a work of art.

Or maybe I could just take photos with my iPhone. {Like the flower and stork photos below.}

P.S. If you've cracked the code for cameras and have any words of wisdom for me, please do let me know.

I'm joining my friends today at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for Your Heart. Click the image to hop on over for some inspiration!